Pro-Western candidate wins Moldovan presidential election

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Former prime minister Maia Sandu prepares to cast her vote in the country's presidential election runoff in Chisinau, Moldova, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2020. Moldovans returned to the polls Sunday for the second round of voting in the country's presidential election, facing a choice between the staunchly pro-Russian incumbent Igor Dodon, and his popular pro-Western challenger, former prime minister Maia Sandu. (AP Photo/Roveliu Buga)

CHISINAU – Maia Sandu, a former World Bank economist who favors closer ties with the European Union, has won Moldova's presidential runoff vote, decisively defeating the staunchly pro-Russian incumbent, according to preliminary results released Monday.

Sandu captured over 57% of the vote, leaving the incumbent, Igor Dodon, behind by over 15 points, according to preliminary data from the Central Election Commission, CEC, that said nearly 100% of the vote has been counted.

Sunday’s election was seen as a referendum on two divergent visions for the future of the small Eastern European nation sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania. Sandu and Dodon, who Russian President Vladimir Putin identified as his preferred candidate, have been rivals since he narrowly defeated her in the 2016 presidential race.

“People voted in very large numbers ... they voted because they care, because they want their voices to be heard,” Sandu, who promised during the campaign to secure more financial support from the EU, said late Sunday after it became apparent she was leading. “People want the ones in power to offer solutions to their problems.”

On Monday, Dodon conceded after the results were published and congratulated Sandu.

“I call for calm and peace, absolutely no disturbances or protests, we must not allow any destabilization of the country," he said.

The current pro-Russian government controls only 51 of 101 seats in the parliament. The new president can dissolve parliament if the prime minister resigns and there are two failed attempts to find a successor.

Putin on Monday congratulated Sandu and expressed hope that her work as the head of state “contributes to the constructive development of relations” between Russia and Moldova.